It’s too late to turn back. We’ve been traveling on horseback for three days. Before that, we commandeered a rowboat. The Princess even resorted to taking a small plane from the islands to her home country.
Now, the wind swirling around us, it flings snow at our faces. The flakes settle on our shoulders. We’ve given up slapping them away. Wrapped in furs and blankets, the cold temperature still settles into my bones.
Princess Nabil looks like a snow queen, though. Her shoulders back, face forward, she gallops along the frozen landscape without fear or trepidation. I vowed to follow her anywhere, but this is getting to be ludicrous.
I should have put up more of a fight when we realized her parents were no longer in Egypt. Their imperial castle deserted. No servants, no king or queen, no sign of the girl.
Nothing touches this area of Norway. No windmills or cypress tress. It’s just snow. We passed a town yesterday, the whole community huddled into their homes as the blue hour stretched across the sky. I saw their smiling faces through thick windows. A little girl with blonde hair waved as we trotted through the town, her childhood not yet endangered by the presence of strangers.
I wish I could have given that to Erisa. A childhood filled with wonder and awe and kindness. Instead, she was raised on the end of a blade, bloodied and bruised before she even knew that gentleness existed in the world. We’ve been bound to each other for several decades now and I have spent too long watching her take on the weight of the world just to get nothing out of it.
Erisa slows. There’s nothing out here still. Just a white landscape staring back at us.
In an elegant slide, she dismounts her horse, her cloak swirling around her shoulders as her boots sink into the snow. I don’t let myself hope that she’s given up. We’ve come too far for her to turn around and go home. There’s something here.
“My parents have several homes around the globe,” she says quietly as I step off my horse and move to join her on the ground. “This one, though, is their favorite.” Her golden eyes flit around us. “Isolated. Cold. Enough humans to feed from without having to deal with any consequences.”
“Why bring her here then?”
Her gaze snaps to me, liquid fire touched by the shadows of something darker. “This isn’t about Kanani. It’s about me. We’re walking into a prison, Seymour.”
“It’s a trap?” My breath plumes in front of me.
One curt nod. That’s all she can give me as an answer as she struggles to catch her breath, her hands opening and closing into fists at her sides. Scared. That’s what I’m seeing in her features. Princess Erisa Nabil is terrified.
She keeps her chin up. “There isn’t a very large chance she’s alive,” she says carefully, each word damaging her as she accepts the reality of our situation. “I have to go in there. If she is alive, I have to see her.” Another slow, deep breath. “If she isn’t, I have to stop her murderers from getting away with it.”
A death sentence. She’s walking right into one. Against all protocol between us, I reach out and wrap my hand around her cold wrist.
“Is she worth it?”
Determination sets her shoulders. She doesn’t shrug me off, but she remains stiff in my grasp.
“I will tear this world apart for Nani. She’s worth it.”
I force myself to meet her hardened gaze. This isn’t the face of a princess. This is a warrior. This is the woman who will become my Queen.
“And if she’s not there? If there’s no way to save her?” My chest tight, I force the next words out because I need to know she’s completely invested in this notion. “You’ll send us to the depths of Hell for someone who cannot be reached?”
Erisa’s bottom lip trembles. “You don’t have to follow me, Mour.”
I gently rub my thumb over the silky skin over her too thin wrist. “You aren’t going in there without me.”
A whisper of a smile touches her lips before she pulls me towards her and wraps her arms around my neck. “You are my only friend, Seymour Mostafa.”
Without giving me a chance to reciprocate or find a way to speak past the lump in my throat, she pulls away and twirls back towards the plain landscape. Tugging a short sword from the arsenal strapped to her body, she stabs it directly into the ground, gives it a hard turn to the left, and then takes two steps back towards me. The ground trembles. The snow shifts, slowly creating a large circle in front of us.
Not a circle. A tunnel.
This is it. Everything she has been searching for in the last week and half. We’ve crossed from one hemisphere to the next and passed through several countries all for the girl Erisa loves.
I’d be a fool to walk into this optimistically, but I let my fingers wrap around the pendant that hangs on my neck as I whisper a prayer to the heavens. Maybe we’ll be okay. Perhaps they’ll be reunited and we can make it back home in time for lunch tomorrow.
Maybe. Perhaps. Probably not.
I take one last deep breath of the frozen air and let the cold latch onto my lungs. It’s time. She puts one boot on the rung leading down and I’m following before her head dips below the surface.
We travel one on top of the other for several meters before Erisa lets go of the ladder, free falling the rest of the distance into the dim pit. Her feet barely make a sound as she lands. The only other noise is the whisper of metal on leather as she pulls out two knives and glares down the tunnel.
Should Kanani be in a bad shape… I let that thought die. Erisa Nabil is not the kind of demon I would want to meet on this day. To lose the love that ties her to her humanity would be a travesty no riches or pleas could ever appease.
Soon enough my own feet settle onto the concrete. I don’t pull out any weapons. My princess can threaten the other members of the royal family and survive, but I won’t get away so easily. It’s best to see if we can talk this out before I pull out a sword and forfeit my life.
No more words pass between us. She moves into the shadows and I am right on her heels. This isn’t the first battle we’ve walked into together, but, if things are as bad as I suspect, it may be the last.
I try to memorize the firm line of her shoulders in the minimal light. Her hair braided tightly down the back of her head and her eyes forward, this is a woman ready to take on the world. Should she need me, I won’t let her down.
There’s a faint click and then the lights for the tunnels blare to life. Flickering bulbs burn a golden imprint onto my retinas. I manage to stay on my feet, jaw clenched as I blink to clear my blurred vision. Erisa doesn’t even flinch. She likely has contacts in that filter the light for her sensitive vision. I should have been smart enough to do the same.
My Princess waits for me to be ready before she stalks further down the tunnel, her knuckles taking on a pale tone as she grips her weapons tighter. “You know why I’m here,” Erisa shouts into the blackness beyond us.
The sharp click of heels on concrete echoes down the tunnel as her mother walks towards us. A wine glass in hand, she stops several meters away, smart enough not to get close enough to Erisa to lose a battle while silently daring her to lunge. Should Erisa attack first, no explanation or sentimental story or plea could save her. To touch Queen Nabil is a death sentence. Even if the Queen makes the first move, there’s a large chance Erisa will still be condemned for defending herself.
We’re trapped now as a thud rings out behind us. The hatch has been closed from the outside. I have no doubt this place was built to keep vampires in. We won’t be forcing our way back out.
Erisa never planned to leave.
My heart thuds heavy against my ribs. Love is as good a reason to go to battle as anything else. It’s one of the greatest reasons to die, so that two lost souls can eventually be reunited. I let my fingers curl around the hilt of the blade at my side. No matter what happens now, whether we leave these places as ourselves or something less corporeal, Erisa Nabil will not go alone.
“I see you brought your pet, darling,” the Queen drawls after taking a generous sip of the dark liquid in her glass.
Most princesses are tied to a man at an early age. I was given to Erisa. A warrior bestowed on a child. The royal line obligates her to take a husband, but she has kept me as a friend and confidante. I am a failure in the eyes of her parents.
I couldn’t care less. The only eyes I care to see myself in are Erisa’s.
She and I.
Now until the end.
“Where’s my fiancée?” Erisa’s voice is cold, each word dripping with the kind of power typically reserved for a god.
“He’s right there, darling.”
I swallow hard, but make no move to speak. This isn’t my fight. Erisa doesn’t dare glance my way, but I scrape my foot across the cement flooring to remind her I’m here.
Here. Behind her. Whenever she needs.
“Kanani, Mother. Where the Hell is she?”
The older woman clucks her tongue against the roof of her mouth. “Did I teach you no manners?”
Erisa is a half a breath away from throwing one of those knives. I brace myself for it.
“Is she dead?” My princess is spitting the words through bared teeth, her fangs pushing out of her upper jaw as she readies to jump into battle.
We’re likely to be dead before we ever know the answer. I brace myself for that decision, for the moment Erisa will need me to lunge into battle alongside her. The woman in front of me is holding herself together by sheer will and determination alone. I can see the way her hands tremble when she asks questions about her missing fiancée, though. Her breaths too short, her words too clipped, she is seconds away from breaking and I have to be ready to put myself between her and the sharpened point of a sword if I want her to have any chance of surviving.
I never get the chance to move as the Queen snaps her fingers.
A single man delivers the remains of Kanani’s body in a cardboard box. There isn’t time to take in every pain inflicted on the girl. It’s impossible to equate what’s left with what once was a woman in love with tourists and the idea of running away to be a hippie just so she could fight for what she believed in. This isn’t the woman who I helped sneak into Erisa’s rooms in order for her to get down on one knee and ask my princess to stay in her life forever. This is our worst nightmare coming to life.
The inevitable break I expected crashes through my princess. A guttural scream wrenches itself from Erisa. Not a cry from the throat. Not a sob. This comes deep from her stomach, rattles through her chest, and flings itself into the world as she hits her knees in front of the dropped box.
Her fingers hesitate over the once beautiful face before gently closing the glossy, brown eyes. I don’t move. I can’t until I know what course of action she wants to take. There’s a clear shot to take down the Queen right now, but it isn’t my right to take such a death.
This is Erisa’s decision.
Soldiers file into the room, taking up space in front of and behind the Queen. “It is time for you to stop playing around, Daughter. Time to live the life I have created for you. I suggest you get off of the ground now before I put a sword through your friend.”
Now or never, Erisa. I don’t mind the sword. It would be an honor to die for this, for her, for the right to let her live and love and go on in this world how she chooses.
We have seconds to live and concede or to choose to go down fighting.
I tighten my grip on my sword, popping a button on my other hip to give me access to some smaller options since we’re stuck in this tunnel. “Erisa?” I finally allow myself to speak, my voice unnatural to my ears as it slips by my teeth.
Ever so carefully, she wipes her nose on the back of her hand and stands to her full height. She doesn’t look to her mother. She instead turns to me, our eyes on the same level, so I can come face to face with the horror and devastation that Kanani’s end has brought to her.
“I will stay,” she says it loud enough for the sensitive ears of our enemies, “but you must go.”
There’s not enough air in here. My chest is tight. I shake my head. I would rather die in these halls than go above ground as a coward.
“Something I love has to survive today,” she manages, each syllable trembling over her lips.
My heart cracks and I nod. “As you wish,” I murmur back, stepping into her as she pulls me in for a hug. “You are my queen,” I add, my breath a warm caress on her cold ear.
I don’t know how she expects me to leave until I feel her tug my chin down. Our lips brush. Magic tingles across the space between us, making my face feel fuzzy as I stagger back from her.
“Gideon Carter,” Erisa commands. “Find him and wait until I’m ready.”
Her knives are flying in the next moment, but there’s nothing I can do to fight the magic coursing through my system. I shrink in front of the soldiers coming for me. Once a man, now a mere pest.
Erisa takes down seven soldiers before one manages to get his hands on her. I shuffle out from the confines of my bulky, winter clothing and stretch my wings. Erisa is on the floor as I take to the air.
Her gold eyes follow me as I slip out of an air vent as a bat, the cacophony of the battle echoing around me as I do the one thing I swore not to.
I abandon my queen and let her mother get away with murder, so we may win another day.
The wind batters me as I find a way back to the surface, a single thought on the front of my mind as shame does all it can to pull me back to the ground: Gideon Carter.
I must find Gideon Carter and wait until Erisa can rejoin me.
There is no way to tell how long we will be separate, but there is one thing I do know. I will find Erisa Nabil again in this life and we will not lose the next battle.
As always, thank you to everyone who has made it to this part of the post. Seymour and Erisa are an important piece in the overall theme of my novels, two beings from out of time fighting to fit in and survive and love in their preferred ways. When I saw the prompt for getting away with murder, I thought I would write something goofy and light-hearted about an accident that had to be covered up, but this story became so important after the one-sentence clue I gave to it a few weeks ago in Gideon’s story about Tomorrow. Decades will pass before these two are reunited. It’s going to be really interesting to see how they change and adapt in the twenty-first century.
Again, thank you!
Be sure to check out Bridgette’s post for the same murderous prompt: https://bridgettetales.com/